I had always wanted to visit Nepal, and in particular its capital city, Kathmandu. However, when I landed at Tribhuvan International Airport I did not expect to have endure such frustration in order to obtain my Visa on Arrival.
I had taken an evening flight on Air Asia X from Kuala Lumpur and we landed in Kathmandu at around 19.45hrs, after one of the most turbulent and bumpy descents I have ever experienced (the Kathmandu Valley is known for being a little on the turbulent side)! Upon disembarkation, we were then required to fill in a the visa on arrival form in the arrivals area. Incidentally, I really advise against relying on the Visa on Arrival at Tribhuvan Airport. I would more recommend going through the visa in advance process, which for UK nationals can be done through thenepembassy.org.uk/visa.
Tribhuvan International Airport is quite a dusty place even at the best of times, but in the evening when there is no light outside, it can look very dimly lit and not exactly the friendliest-looking airport in the world for first time visitors! Nevertheless, following the maddening crowds from the buses, I began filling out the visa on arrival forms. The forms themselves are quite self-explanatory, but you need to make sure you have a passport sized photo for your application. It doesn’t matter if you cannot cut or stick these photos yourself, as the immigration officials will do it for you anyway – however, I soon realised my nightmare was going to occur when there were actually no immigrations officials! Now, Nepal is a fairly lax country anyway, with no real organisation or routine. Things just seem to happen whenever, wherever. Of course, I am not saying all of Nepal is like this, but from my experiences at the airport and during my stay in Kathmandu I certainly noticed a trend!
So standing in a long queue for around an hour before an immigration official even began dealing with us was not a good way to start my adventure in Nepal. I have never had to wait this long at any airport, anywhere in the world (not even in Laos or Mongolia), so I had begun to get very annoyed by this point. As you can imagine, the lines moved very slowly, and I even saw a few unfortunate soles be sent to the back of the queue because they had either forgotten to fill in something important on the visa on arrival forms, or actually forgotten to pick up the form itself before joining the queue! I started to worry that I may be the next guy to get sent to the back of the queue, so I went through my forms with a toothpick again and again and again. At least I now found a way to pass the time!
I was only going to be making a short visit to Kathmandu, so I only applied for the tourist visa of 15 days. There are also visas available for 30 days and 90 days – but this is where it gets confusing! The first official you encounter will merely take your money (£20 for 15 days, £35 for 30 days, and £75 for 90 days), and then he should then direct you to the correct queue behind him, depending on your intended length of stay. However, on my time of visit the immigration official merely pointed half-heartedly behind him as to where I should queue up next. When I asked him to repeat, he blanked me and began talking to the next person in line! So I had to join the queue at which I thought he pointed. As it turned out, I had actually joined the wrong queue (yep, you guessed it!), and when it came to my time to get the passport stamped, I was redirected to the correct line, albeit having to stand at the back of this line. Thankfully, it was not too long at this point.
Some 120 minutes after landing at Tribhuvan International Airport, I had finally obtained my Nepal Visa on Arrival! As I walked down to the luggage reclaim area, it had been so long since my flight had landed, the luggage from the flight was no longer on the conveyor belts, as other flights had since landed. There was luggage all over the floor. What chaos! Eventually, I got a stroke of luck and managed to walk past my luggage, and then quickly headed out to my hotel pick up driver, who greeted me with exasperated sarcasm: “Oh, finally!”
I figured that my time in Kathmandu still had more troubles ahead…